Food must be taken seriously, more seriously than most of things in life. That’s why as a food lover and a cook I like treating it with a magic formula which is made of great responsibility and genuine fun.
+It’s no coincidence that children are all the time being asked if they have eaten and if they have eaten enough: feeding is the first way to take care of someone and also the most intimate way, offering a part of ourselves, of our time, our taste, our sensitivity. When I chose this job I was aware I would have to handle everyday this delicate instrument of pleasure, which is both culture and sharing. Serving dishes means encouraging encounters and celebrating joy.
In the story of every cook a granny’s pot is boiling. I can still smell my granny’s bread kneaded using her starter and I still remember the gnarled hands of experienced women moving patiently,+and the light smoke of the oven in an old roofless kitchen, where during the day you were in the sun and at night you cooked under the stars. That’s how I grew up, as a country explorer, running among the workers of my grandpa’s farm who were always picking some fruit or vegetable from June to November: almonds, carobs, grapes, olives. In that small, industrious kitchen populated by women, I was all the time looking for games with fires and knives, with curious and impatient eyes, and eventually I ended up playing with a piece of dough to mould. The mysterious miracle of dishes prepared without recipes and that intense, deep taste, strictly linked to the richness of my land are the origin of all my memories, the alphabet of my work.
When I was seven years old, one day I was home alone, and decided to explore the recipe of aubergine parmigiana, a typical dish of our family meals.+What arose my curiosity was its enchanting play of colours and textures, at the end moulded in a square shape: in this dish you find at the same time impeccable order and irresistible curiosity. I spent an afternoon frying aubergines, preparing the sauce, cooking eggs and – above all – looking at the oven. When my father had a bite, he told me: “That’s the best parmigiana your mother has ever prepared!” Today, exactly as that afternoon, the kitchen is my continent to explore, a shelter where I feel comfortable and safe, like a child in his tree house, where every day there is a new game to invent, a new experiment to try, running some risks and following my innate attitude for going beyond the borders of what is already known and challenging myself.
That legendary parmigiana prepared by a little chef was not the only reason why my father cleverly wanted to me to attend the catering institute.+Unfortunately, this kind of discussions are always won by women and, in that case, maths was my mother’s accomplish: that’s how I ended at a High School focused on Science and then, for the same reason, at a law University. There was no day I didn’t cook something new, for me, at home, sometimes just because I wanted to eat the things I loved; even so, I realized it could really be my destiny only when the company where I was working after graduating, offered me to move to Shanghai: I decided to leave everything, get married with my wife Carmen and convert a small Sicilian typical cave in the centre of Noto into our first trattoria. Luckily time teaches us how to understand ourselves and how to surrender to vocation, which is an irrepressible instinct and, after all, the place in our soul where we put down roots.
Belonging to the countryside taught me that you can learn more cheating one hour with a cheese producer than spending ten years trying to use cheese properly.+Growing up near Corrado Assenza’s Caffè Sicilia confirmed that cooking is finding a way to translate those stories, serving them on the table. I remember clearly the first time I met Corrado, and even more all those mornings of these ten years; I am so grateful for finding a so fertile spot of land and a master inflexible while teaching, and so careful when I fell. As he never gave me a recipe, and we never talked about how much sugar you should put in one dish, what I learned from him was not a style of cooking, but a philosophy of life. Even now, walking in Old Noto, studying the seasonally changing countryside, recalling memories of old smells and having breakfast in the early morning at Caffè Sicilia, mixing together in my fantasy the religion of Corrado Assenza with the worldly wisdom passing by his counter are to me unlimited sources of inspiration. In any kind of experience, it is impressing how rich the most simple things are.
The efforts of the self-taught requires twice the dedication, but also gives twice the satisfaction. Growing as a cook when someone is teaching you is easier,+while growing as a self-taught makes you try and try, and also making a lot of mistakes. To my afternoons in the kitchen, to my sleepless nights, to the great adventure of writing my notes on a white sheet on my own, though, I owe all I have learned: the patience of observing the material and also the potentials of a detailed study of its composition, and much more. Each recipe takes you to discover yourself, to experience your own approach to what is around you, and what you have in your hands. Each result might not be the best you can obtain, but it is beyond a doubt the most authentic one: the most honest gift you can share with those who sit at the table with you.
Science is essential if you want to get some consciousness about the process of cooking, examining the features of each raw material, respecting what nature has given us:+experimenting makes sense if you get rid of any kind of exaggerations, aiming to write a new chapter to discover each product and its versatility. Technique, even if used in the most neutral way, is not enough and must be integrated with generosity, fantasy and – sometimes – a twist of courage: that’s how I like to repay my guest’s trust, trying to instil enthusiasm with the help of my kitchen staff. This process is worth the feeling of dissatisfaction for being all the time spasmodically looking for the best result. That’s the same for each accurate craftsman who believes that his work is a way of being, acting, thinking and seeing the world, and cannot help falling in love constantly and with boundless enthusiasm.